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Republic of Albania - Overview of activities - January to March 2002

08-05-2002 Operational Update

 Albania has been shaken by internal disturbances and the recent conflicts in the Balkans. The country as a whole has been destabilized and flooded with small arms, and large areas are littered with mines and UXO. This, combined with the region’s general volatility, has prompted the ICRC to focus on mine action, the promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL), and the restoration of family ties between people separated as a result of the internal disturbances. Since 1997, the ICRC has been working with the national authorities to improve the living conditions of detainees.  

 Protection activities  

 People deprived of their freedom  

ICRC delegates started visiting places of detention in Albania in October 1997. The aim of the visits is purely humanitarian, namely to ensure that people are treated humanely and in accordance with humanitarian law. The delegates’ findings are discussed with the authorities in charge, whose efforts to improve the conditions of detention the ICRC supports. The ICRC also encourages donor countries to fund the construction of adequate prison facilities and pre-trial detention sites. During 2001, the ICRC visited all 36 police stations, some of them several times, talked to 985 detainees and provided assistance (boilers, water tanks, blankets, mattresses, cleaning sets) to alleviate the effects of poor sanitation and overcrowding.

    

 Tracing activities  

Almost all of the 465,000 Kosovo refugees who came to Albania during the 1999 crisis have either returned to Kosovo or moved on to a third country. A major aspect of the ICRC’s work in Albania has been to restore ties between family members who lost contact with each other during those movements, to seek information about missing relatives and to reunite families separated following the 1999 events in Kosovo. In 2001, the ICRC worked on tracing requests concerning 60 people.

 Albanian Red Cross tracing services  

The Albanian Red Cross Tracing Service was established in 1991 with ICRC support in response to the first wave of emigrants who fled to Italy during the same year.

Thanks to support from the ICRC and the American Red Cross, the Tracing Service is now fully operational. Its working criteria have been strengthened, a database has been developed and the backlog of requests is being tackled.

 Mine action  

As a result of the Kosovo crisis, mines were laid in 1998 and 1999 along approximately 74 kilometres (1,400 ha) of Albania’s border with Kosovo. In addition, cluster bombs were dropped in many areas.

The situation has been compounded by the flood of arms and ammunition that has found its way into the hands of the population. The weapons, mines and UXO are not just a source of physical danger, they also pose considerable socio-economic problems.

 Demining – the ICRC’s advocacy role  

The ICRC is aware of the time it takes to clear mines and is familiar with the specific situation in Albania. It therefore established a strategy to draw the attention of potential donors to the issue, speaking out in the past two years on the matter in order to attract funds for mine clearance. As a result, the Swiss Government and the International Trust Fund in Slovenia have contributed with 2 million Swiss francs. A demining company from Denmark recently started to work in Albania.

The   ICRC is currently trying to launch an approach whereby mine awareness activities are linked with clearance and with humanitarian work in general, involving the Albanian authorities and the international community.

 Mine awareness programme  

The main goal of the mine awareness programme is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by explosive ordnance by promoting safe and appropriate behaviour. The local branches of the Albanian Red Cross and mine awareness instructors, who have been active in the field for three years, play a key role in assessing needs and raising awareness about explosive ordnance. The instructors make sure that mine awareness messages reach the people concerned. Because they are in close contact with the population, they are able to collect in formation regarding mine casualties and the problems they face. Information material, such as posters and games, and interactive theatre performances help the local population change its behaviour and protect itself more effectively. During the past year, instructors visited all the villages along the border and were in contact with close to 30,000 people.

 Assistance for mine victims  

The ICRC and the Albanian Red Cross are working closely with the Albanian Prosthesis Centre to provide prompt and appropriate assistance for mine victims. Mine awareness instructors identify potential beneficiaries and a medical specialist determines when the patients are ready for treatment. The ICRC covers all costs, including transport of the mine victims from their villages to Tirana and back, accommodation and a per diem during the period needed for fitting. To date, 59 mine casualties have received an artificial limb.

The ICRC has also launched a " shoemaker " project to facilitate the reintegration of mine causalities into society. Twelve people have so far taken the 8-month training course on how to make shoes.

 Supporting the political authorities  

In its role as the guardian of humanitarian law, the ICRC maintains regular contacts with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice to encourage the authorities to ratify new treaties and to adopt national measures for their implementation. Discussions have been held on the implementation of the Ottawa treaty, the revision of the Military Penal Code and Albania’s ratification of the 1980 Conv ention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The ratification procedures for the CCW and its protocols have been completed and sent to the government for signature.

The ICRC has commissioned a study on national legislation and practice in respect of IHL by a national association, the European Centre; the study also involves the University of Tirana Law Faculty.

 Training for arms carriers  

    

 Law of armed conflict for military forces  

The Albanian armed forces have started developing training in IHL for armed forces units, with ICRC support. IHL is already a subject on the curriculum of military academies. The ICRC has conducted specialized courses for senior air force officers and for navy instructors. In order to provide proper aids for training, IHL material has been translated and a number of videos produced in Albanian. The ICRC has funded the publication of a booklet, Rules of the law of war , to help the armed forces incorporate the law of armed conflict into their regulations and manuals. Its manual, Fight it right , has been translated and is to be printed as reference material for future courses.

 IHL and human rights for police forces  

The Albanian police forces need to integrate all the provisions of IHL and human rights applicable to professiona l training and operations. In support of this endeavour, the ICRC has given courses in humanitarian law and human rights law to commanders and instructors of the special and rapid intervention police forces and to senior officers from 8 police stations in the country.